Religious Conflict in Kashmir

       Kashmir, the disputed and beautiful northernmost state of India, is crowned by the Himalayas and bejewelled with lakes reflecting the sun. It is also currently considered a war zone, and has been the centrepiece of at least three wars since 1947, when Pakistan split from India in the infamous Partition. The population is mostly Muslim, which is why Pakistan claims that the territory belongs to them as a Muslim nation. Kashmir also has large amounts of natural resources, including oil, making it a very valuable piece of land for both nations. Indian soldiers currently occupy Kashmir, many of whom are Hindus and are from all over India. The conflict in Kashmir is both complex and simple; on a fact-based, general level, it is quite easy to understand. However, on a personal level, there are many factors to consider to truly be able to understand how the situation has impacted the lives of Kashmiris. One of the most important factors is religion, as it applies to everyone and everything in Kashmir. In Islam, there are two major sub-groups: Shia Islam and Sunni Islam. There are 1.2 billion Sunni Muslims, while there are only 200 million Shia Muslims. The split between the two groups took place after the Prophet Muhammad’s death. The Sunnis believe that any capable Muslim can take over the leadership of the Muslim community, while the Shias believe that the leader must be someone from Muhammad’s lineage. There are many similarities between the two sub-groups; for example, they both forbid iconography and follow the Quran. (“Shia vs. Sunni”) However, major differences come along with these similarities. One that plays a big role in the religious dynamic of Kashmir is the observation of Muharram. While Sunnis might fast for the first 10 days or solely the 10th day of Muharram, Shiites will fast and perform self-flagellation on the 10th day. Self-flagellation is the practice of hurting oneself in religious discipline. (Merriam-Webster) Shia Muslims use self-flagellation as a form of mourning for a dead imam. They will use chains and knives to inflict pain on their bodies while prayers are recited. Sunnis look on self-flagellation as a sin, and believe that the Shiites are wrong in continuing to mourn their dead imam after years have passed. This can lead to conflicts between the two sub-groups. On the 10th day of Muharram, tensions that are present all year round in Kashmir come to the surface. This past November, fights broke out between police and civilians in the city centre of Srinagar. Police fired tear gas canisters into the crowds of mourners observing Muharram, and more than 75 people were arrested. At one point, the police used batons to charge the civilians. Shia leaders were placed under house arrest. Unlike other parts of India, processions of Shia Muslims performing self-flagellation are not permitted in Kashmir. The government justifies this by saying it is due to the state’s volatility. For this reason, police are dispatched throughout the city with sophisticated weapons in order to try to stop the observation of this holiday. In Srinagar during Muharram, the tense atmosphere encapsulates the city centre and is almost tangible; many streets are closed off and violence is almost inevitable. Many of the soldiers and police stationed in Kashmir are Hindus, while the majority of Kashmiris are Muslims. The divisional commissioner of Jammu said, “The situation is very tense but under control.” However, groups of Muslims have torched Hindu stores, and Hindu policemen have been arrested under accusation of killing dozens of Muslims. (Nelson) The Kashmiris resent the presence of the soldiers, and it is hard for the two groups to find common ground, especially with the history of religious conflict between Muslims and Hindus. Understanding this history is crucial to understanding the entire conflict in Kashmir, which is interesting in that this particular issue is so widespread. The religious conflict is present on every level from political to personal. Over history, religion has been one of the biggest things dividing humans, leading to conflict. Almost 70 years of violence have passed since the separation of Pakistan from India. The 13 million inhabitants have dealt with endless conflict, whether it is in the name of religion or in the name of the government, since 1947. The layers of this situation are extremely complex in human terms, which is one of the reasons that it is so difficult to solve. When looking at the big picture, there does not seem to be an evident or feasible solution.  One can only hope that the Kashmiris are able to unite as one and have their voice heard. That is the only obvious step that can be taken towards a solution at this point in time.

Works Cited

Nelson, Dean. “Kashmir: Violence Escalates between Hindus and Muslims.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 11 Aug. 2013. Web. 22 Nov. 2013.         <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/india/10236064/Kashmir-Violence-escalates-between-Hindus-and-Muslims.html&gt;.

“Self-flagellation.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2013.                          <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/self-flagellation&gt;.

“Shia vs Sunni.” Difference and Comparison. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2013. <http://www.diffen.com/difference/Shia_vs_Sunni&gt;.

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